Even though there was seemingly no shortage of folks making the trek between two nearby downtown Saskatoon hotels sporting lanyards indicating they were part of the Canadian Association of Principals conference, it was all relative.
Whereas the last time this national conference was staged in Saskatoon in 2004 there were close to 1,000 delegates, this year’s event attracted less than 300. According to Carol Sarich and Wanda Spooner (both are Saskatoon principals and together with Patrick Mooney served as co-chairpersons of the organizing committee), that’s just part of the modern-day reality whereby administrators and teachers are finding it difficult to secure professional development funding from their respective school divisions to attend such conferences.
And lest we should think it’s just Saskatchewan educators that are having to live with financial constraints, it is in fact a plight shared by colleagues nationwide.
“Talking to others at the conference, I would say the issues are fairly similar across the country in terms of facing budget cuts and the new demands placed on teachers and administrators. We’re all trying to grapple with the rapid pace of change happening in education,” Sarich said.
Spooner concurred, adding that in talking to colleagues from British Columbia to New Brunswick, there’s a familiar theme and one that organizers at the CAP conference were conscious of addressing.
“We’re all dealing with a range of challenges as administrators and we know that as leaders we need to keep up with it all. At the same time we’re working within budget constraints right across the country, and it would seem there’s a similar political climate. So while every jurisdiction is different, there’s definitely a similarity in what we’re facing in our schools,” Spooner noted.
“We all have parameters in terms of budget and curriculum, for example, and we have to be prepared to think inside the box as a result. That’s a lot of what leaders are trying to do.”
Sarich said that much of what is covered and discussed at conferences such as these ultimately revolves around the opportunities to make the education experience better for students.
“There’s no question that with the new realities we have to change some of our practices for the future of our students.One of the central ideas around this conference is looking at leadership and school culture–particularly as it applies to diversification of schools today. We need to address that and look longer term.
“There’s a balance that as administrators we face in terms of the ongoing challenges, and with the budget constraints we need to be better stewards of our resources but at the same time fulfil the students’ needs.”
Sarich bemoaned the fact that it’s much more difficult for administrators to attend such events as CAP. She added that it’s a missed opportunity on so many levels, not the least of which is the extensive networking possibilities with colleagues that this conference has a well-deserved reputation for.
“One of the things this conference does really well is help form relationships that will be of great benefit down the road. I’ve certainly come away with some ideas in terms of how to better teach and communicate with people, and to have the chance to listen to people and to have heard new perspectives has been very rewarding.”
Spooner was effusive in recounting what she has learned from the three-day event.
“It’s critical to have that professional learning opportunity, and that’s very important for me. I’ve been inspired by the sessions I’ve been able to attend, and it’s so necessary for us as professionals to have these opportunities.
“When you attend an event like this, you realize just how important it is to get together. I know I feel re-energized, and my tool kit is full with lots of new ideas that I want to share with my staff and students. In a way, maybe it took this conference to show me again how important these events are,” Spooner added.